Dave Hudson

hashingit.com

Playing librarian with 30 years of collected research

2020-03-04 07:30 - 2 min read

If there’s a theme in my life it has been an obsession with computers. I started when I was 9 and still have books on my shelves from the late 70s and early 80s when that passion was new - thank you, Dad! Every one of those books, and their successors, taught me a new way to understand and imagine things I could get computers to do.

A random trip to a University bookshop led me to discover Niklaus Wirth and Jürg Gutknecht’s book, “Project Oberon”. Systems programming had always been a fascination, but this was a revelation. I still recommend it as a fantastic insight into how to build a hugely complex system from nothing. Reading this book had a surprising side effect. It made me aware of a thing called the Internet. With access to that, I could get more information and code via FTP.

Finding an ISP in 1992 was harder than it sounds. You couldn’t just search for an ISP on the web. The web didn’t really exist, and you needed an ISP to get to it! Eventually, I did find a dial-up provider and with that, the world opened up - at 2400 bps. Yes, that’s 2.4k bps, 0.0024 Mbps. The home page for this blog is currently about 90 kBytes, compressed. At those speeds, it would take just over 6 minutes to load!

While I went looking for all things Oberon, I found something else. A lot of CS departments had started to share research papers via anonymous FTP, so I started to download and read them. Suddenly, I could trawl everything from the latest works on language design and operating, but I could also find the MIT AI Lab’s back catalogue. The latter began a love of reading older research classics. Many of these explore entirely new ways of doing things. With each one, I learned to see the world of computing from different perspectives and with a new sense of possibilities. I’ve been looking for more ever since.

Over the years I lost a few. Hard drives failed without backups. Weblinks went dead. Cloud services showed they were not as reliable as I might have hoped. So now I’ve collected them all again, put them in a git repo, and am serving them up here.

All the papers that made it to this site are ones I value. While playing librarian, though, I rediscovered a few long-lost friends.

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